A woman gives birth after hours that seem like days passing into night. A friend who had been by her side throughout the ordeal looks upon her and asks was it worth it?
The woman understands the question, yet is surprised by it, by her friend’s ignorance. How can her friend not know? How can she not see?
Oh yes, she answers smiling through the pain. Yes. It was worth it.
The woman clutches the child to her just a little tighter, as if to protect him from all the doubts and fears that have led up to this single moment in their time.
The woman has no idea what will come for this little person entrusted to her. But in that single instant when mother and child meet face to face for the first time, doubt and fear are replaced by the single polestar that will guide their lives together: love.
In the days turning to weeks and months and years to come . . . the long nights of worry and the days leaching into old age, the question will come back to her. The facts of a lifetime will change, the texture of the real life of the child she bore will take the place of the life she imagined for him.
Yet her answer remains always the same: Oh yes. Yes. It was worth it.
The friend’s question was driven not by mere curiosity. It was driven by a genuine desire to know what she herself had not experienced: how could it be ‘worth it’ to go through what the woman had borne? How could any woman desire this travesty to her body? How was it possible that what looked to the friend like torture would produce what she saw on her friend’s face? For where the friend saw only fear and heartache and pain, the woman saw . . . felt . . . embodied . . . joy, the joy born of love.
So it has been from the beginning of time, as women have given birth and bystanders have wondered that they would.
So it was for the woman. So it was for Mary.
Imagine, then, Mary, not as the young woman to whom Gabriel appeared, but as an old woman having outlived her son who was publicly executed by the Roman Empire, pondering in her heart all that had happened before, being asked by strangers and friends alike whether it was worth it.
As recorded in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel, she would remember the words of the angel Gabriel, spoken to her when she was little more than a child herself:
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”An old woman now, she will remember her question to the angel – how would this be possible? And in the face of the angel’s response: For nothing will be impossible with God, she recalls her own words, her own blind, naive-sounding faith: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.
Looking at her own wrinkled hands, pondering that her son, the beloved of her heart, did not live long enough to be so marked by time, she thinks on the promise of his greatness, his ascension to David’s own throne and wonders where the never-ending kingdom went to.
She laughs at her own naivete and considers how God’s ways never look the way her people think it will. She is gentle with her many visitors, especially with the mothers who themselves have lost sons.
She knows the cost and no words need be spoken between them as she and they simply sit together in the silence of their shared experience and sorrow.
When it is time for them, these visiting mothers of sorrow, to leave her, she takes their hands and offers her own silent blessing and comfort.